After hitting 23 homers in 525 plate appearances in 2013 as a 24 year-old rookie, Jedd Gyorko only hit 26 homers in 2014 and 2015 combined. This year, however, he has 24 homers in only 333 plate appearances. Is this performance sustainable or a fluke? Let’s first look at the case against Gyorko sustaining this surge.
At first glance, one may think that more homers per plate appearance for Gyorko this year has just been a product of him becoming largely a platoon player for the first time. Gyorko, a righty, has indeed faced more lefties this season. This year, over 37% of his plate appearances have been against southpaws. In no other year has that mark eclipsed even 27%. It is also true that in his career as a whole, he has been more productive against lefties (110 wRC+) than righties (93 wRC+). However, this year Gyorko has a reverse platoon split. All but four of his 24 homers have come against righties, and against them he’s managed a 136 wRC+. He has actually been quite poor against lefties (82 wRC+). While reverse platoon splits do not tend to last, we now know that Gyorko’s power surge is not a product of him being platooned.
Has Gyorko been hitting the ball any harder? His contact quality triple slash hasn’t improved:
Worse, his average exit velocity has actual decreased from 89.2 MPH last year (which was above average) to 88.3 this year (firmly below average).
Another knock on Gyorko’s power surge is that his HR/FB rate is through the roof this season. This rate statistic is one that tends to fluctuate, but generally falls around 13%. Gyorko’s career rate is 15.9%, but his rate has been an exorbitant 26.1% this year. That number is bound to come back down.
Now, the case for Gyorko sustaining this surge. Pulling the ball generally leads to more power (a la Daniel Murphy), and Gyorko is pulling the ball more than he ever has:
In addition, his flyball percentage is at its highest since his rookie year. This has helped raise his average launch angle from 12.6 degrees last year (which was already higher than average) to 14.7 degrees this year. That increase is not due to an increase in popups. In fact, Gyorko’s IFFB% has dropped from an already better than average 6.8% last year to 6.5% this year.
Lastly, Gyorko has been more making more contact. His zone contact rate, overall contact rate, and swinging strike rate have improved. In fact, Gyorko has improved in these three aspects pretty much every year of his career:
To recap, there are a couple of knocks on Gyorko. He doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard and he has a very high HR/FB rate that is bound to regress. However, though he is a flyball hitter, he doesn’t hit many popups. He’s beginning to pull the ball more. Lastly, he has improved his contact-making ability each year. Gyorko is just now entering his prime at age 27, and I think there’s still room to improve. Keep an eye on him, I think he’s a good bet for at least a few more 20-homerun seasons.
Data is from FanGraphs and Baseball Savant. Stats are as of morning 8/31/16. Picture courtesy of FanSided.com
Thanks for reading!